Pretty in White

updated 05/10/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/10/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

THE FIRST TIME TRACY AUSTIN SAW SCOTT HOLT, IN 1989, HE was just a handsome face in the crowd at a UCLA tennis tournament, and she was on crutches, recovering from a crippling car accident five weeks earlier. A friend asked Tracy if she had spotted any good-looking men. She pointed out Holt, and her friend marched over to the attractive stranger and brought him back alive.

Holt, a 32-year-old mortgage broker, proved to be the love match of Austin's life. "I was impressed by her spirit and her zest for life," says Holt, recalling that first meeting. The two began dating a couple of weeks later—and on April 17 were married at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills, with Tracy's old friend Will Chamberlain and former tennis rival Rosie Casals among the 200 guests. Just being able to walk down the aisle on her wedding day without a limp was a major triumph for Austin. Now, with Scott as her No. 1 fan and supporter, the 30-year-old is tackling pro tennis again. Should she ever regain the upper ranks, it would be an astonishing comeback: At 17, Tracy was ranked No. 1 in the world; three years later her career—beset by injuries and, some say, burnout—was stalled. The car accident seemed to apply a coup de grace. But in February, playing in the Evert Cup tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., she beat Katerina Maleeva of Bulgaria, ranked No. 12, before being eliminated in the next round.

Just taking the court is already sweet vindication. Among the doctors who were convinced her playing days were over, one stuck in Austin's memory. "He kept saying I'd probably never play again and I had to be tough and accept that," she says.

The prognosis didn't seem unjustified. Austin, who was competing in a Team Tennis event in Chatham, N.J., I doesn't remember much from the accident. She was on her way to get ultrasound treatment for a sore foot when her car was hit by a van that had gone through a red light. "I remember screaming, 'I'm paralyzed, I'm paralyzed!' " she says. She wasn't, but doctors discovered she had bruised her heart and spleen and shattered her right knee. After surgery that included grafting bone from her hip to her knee, Austin moved back with her parents in Rolling Hills Estates, Calif. She spent 14 hours a day hooked up to a machine that moved the knee back and forth to keep it from stiffening as it healed. "My life became so simple," she says. "Not since I was 7 was there a time when I wasn't either playing tennis or looking forward to doing tennis commentary. I became very dependent on my parents; I couldn't even go to the grocery store."

But Austin didn't completely abandon tennis. Sometimes, accompanied by her mother, Jeanne, or Holt, she went to a nearby tennis club and hit balls from a chair or a bench. "Scott came into my life at such a down time," says Tracy. "He made the rehabilitation go faster because I did therapy in the day and always went out with him at night."

As her rehabilitation continued, Austin began to think about the possibility of a comeback. It wasn't until last fall, though, that she felt the knee was strong enough to withstand the punishment it would take on the court. Back from the Barcelona Olympics, where she had been a TV commentator, she decided to take the risk. Previous comeback efforts from lesser injuries in the 1980s had failed, she says, because they were rushed. "This time, I took the time to get in shape," she says.

With the help of a trainer—and a regimen that included everything from weight lifting to boxing she went to work on her body. Her brother John, who practices with her, began to notice the difference. "She used to be afraid to go all out," he says. "But when I saw her a few months ago, she was no longer afraid." And Bob Lansdorp, who has coached her since she was 7, says, "I didn't give her much chance to beat Maleeva, but I should've known better. You never bet against Tracy."

Tracy's fans are reserving judgment. "She has a life now," says old foe Chris Evert, who is retired. "She's married, and as you get older, the edge goes off. That's great for her human development, but not for her as a tennis player. If she gets into the Top 30, that would be great."

Austin, who plans to wait three years to start a family, isn't concerned about rankings. "I'm already happy," she says, "and I'm already in the Hall of Fame. They can't take that away from me."

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